A group of prominent lawyers, scientists, and civil society groups is calling on the United Nations World Heritage Committee to turn up the heat on the Australian government to protect the Great Barrier Reef.
Earlier this year, researchers at Australia’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies wept after concluding that 93% of the Reef showed some degree of coral bleaching, in what amounted to “an environmental assault on the largest coral ecosystem on Earth.”
In 2015, after Australia successfully lobbied UNESCO not to include the Great Barrier Reef on its list of endangered World Heritage sites, the heritage committee instructed the country to report back on its overall conservation efforts by December 1, 2016. But “scientists have said current policies and funding announcements are not even nearly adequate for meeting the 2050 targets, and between $10 billion and $16 billion was needed,” The Guardian reports. Last week, the paper revealed that national government will also face questions on its response to coral bleaching.
“We would expect that that report from Australia is going to cover all the significant things that have happened since June 2015, and whether there are changes in the picture of the management or the response that is needed,” Tim Badman, director of the IUCN’s World Heritage Programme, told Guardian correspondent Michael Slezak. “The bleaching event is a new issue to be considered.”
In a separate letter last week to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a group of nearly a dozen prominent climate organizations described the Reef as a “natural wonder”, a “global treasure,” and “a lynchpin of the Queensland and national economies, providing around $6 billion to the economy and 70,000 jobs.” They added that the Reef’s status as a UN World Heritage site makes the PM its “custodian on behalf of all Australians and the global community.”
The organizations stressed that coral bleaching requires an emergency response. “This disaster is international, with the bleaching of reefs worldwide, driven by global warming, threatening ecological collapse and putting the primary protein food source of up to 500 million people at risk,” they wrote.
The Guardian reports that Australia mounted a $400-million lobbying push to keep the Reef off the endangered list.